Thankfullness in a Nutshell (or, My Life with Anaphylaxis)


The intensity of the California heat felt jarring to our Washingtonian weather sensibilities and sunburned noses as we stood in line at California Adventure. There were Mickey ears and Disney shirts as far as the eye could see and horror-movie-quality screams kept floating through the air from the direction of Tower of Terror. But I wouldn’t have been able to scream if I’d wanted.

My throat was feeling restricted, as if a man had wrapped a giant, strong hand around my neck and was beginning to squeeze. Choking, suffocating. The clock was ticking, and every second counted. If we didn’t act quickly I could go into anaphylactic shock; if we didn’t act quickly … I could die.

My soon-to-be husband knelt by the bench I was sitting on as if he was proposing, but instead of a ring he was wielding an Epi-Pen. He called 911 and we waited anxiously knowing that if the epinephrine wore off before the medics arrived that the reaction would return in full force.

But soon the medics were running through the park. Soon I was lying in a bed at the ER, where I stayed until midnight.

I hadn’t noticed it until it was too late, but a woman next to me in line had opened a jar of peanut butter because her little kids wanted a snack. I hadn’t seen it, so I hadn’t had time to get away.

This is what life with anaphylaxis can look like. Everything is going along, business as usual, and the next moment someone’s jabbing you with an Epi-Pen and the medics are taking you on an exclusive ride, minus all the Disney characters, in the direction of the nearest hospital.

Even though I have an officially recognized disability, it’s invisible. So I look perfectly normal. But my life is defined by something people can’t automatically spot the first time they meet me the way they’d notice a wheelchair or a seeing-eye dog. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less present.

Like other disabilities, mine impacts, restricts, and defines every day of my life from choosing a new purse based solely on its Epi-Pen carrying potential to avoiding visits to most movie theaters and coffee shops because of the peanut-y treats that are served; from insuring my phone’s battery never gets too low so I always have the ability to call the medics should I need them to the very awkward introductions that go along with making a new acquaintance: “Hello. My name is Kelsey and if you eat peanuts next to me you could kill me. If I ever go into anaphylactic shock, if you could please use my Epi-Pen and call 911 immediately I’d really appreciate it. It’s so nice to meet you.”

After developing anaphylaxis after graduating from high school, there’s been a lot of grief, frustration, anger, and loss that have been a part of coming to terms of what living with a life-threatening invisible disability means. And for me gratitude — not some overly-perky silver lining kind of thing but the acknowledgement that there are still things to be thankful for — is what more than anything helps to pull me out of bouts of depression and enables me to enjoy my life even though it’s not what I planned.

I used to think of thanksgiving as a “but.” For example, “I live with a life-threatening disability … but I have a family who loves me so it’s okay!” But I’m learning that, at least for me, gratitude isn’t a “but.” It’s really more of an “and.” Gratitude doesn’t negate problems or make things magically all better. Instead, it helps keep things in perspective: I live with a life-threatening disability and I have a very supportive family.

I hate having to ask for help with things like grocery shopping. And when peanuts are in season I can’t set foot in several of the stores in town. It makes me feel so much less independent and less like an adult. However, I’m also grateful for my husband and mom who are both willing to help out as much as needed when I can’t take care of something, myself. I feel frustrated that I’m less independent and I’m also thankful I have support.

I can feel depressed or even angry that I have to deal with this, while also feeling grateful that I live in an age when there are life-saving inventions like Epi-Pens. I’m thankful for my doctor who helps me brainstorm about how to do things like go on vacation as safely as possible.

I feel so isolated from the world at large sometimes. And I’m also thankful for blogging because it gives me a community. I can interact with people all over the world; I can make friends and share life without ever having to worry about what someone next to us might be eating. For me, this is huge.

It can be challenging for me to make new face-to-face friends. And I’m also so very thankful for the ones I have. I’m thankful for the friends who have learned how to use my Epi-Pen so they’ll be prepared for an emergency. I’m thankful for the ones who are willing to be flexible about where we hang out or de-peanut their houses so that I can visit. I’m thankful for my friend Stephanie who just recently got married because she ensured that not a single thing on the menu has peanuts because she wanted me to be able to come. It’s harder for me to meet people because so many things center around food and I’m also blessed with some extremely supportive people in my life.

I feel upset with my grandpa who uninvited me from family Thanksgivings and Christmases at his house because he likes to feed the squirrels peanuts. He keeps a very large bag of peanuts next to the dining room table, and was afraid the squirrels wouldn’t enjoy something else so I was uninvited. And I’m also thankful for my in-laws. They made their house completely peanut-free so that I can stop by anytime I want without having to call first to see if they’ve had anything with peanuts that day. I’m thankful that they’ve made sure every holiday dish is Kelsey-safe. I’m hurt by how my grandpa has handled my anaphylaxis and I’m grateful for my in-laws.

I feel grief and loss over my career dreams. During an interview my first questions would be, “Where do people eat? Is it possible for me to completely avoid where they eat? Does anyone ever bring peanut butter cookies to work? What about candy? PB and Js?” The hubby and I realized that a usual 9 am to 5 pm gig wasn’t safe for me. And there’s still grief associated with that loss. And I’m also so thankful that my husband’s top priority is keeping me safe, so he’s fine with us being a one-income family or me working from home even though that means we’ll have to be more frugal.

It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed, angry, and heartbroken; it’s hard to be grateful. But choosing to see the people and things in my life that make my life fuller, more beautiful, safer, and happier helps me to live. Thanksgiving isn’t a magic formula that makes everything perfect or happy or easy, but being grateful helps me to focus on the good and to keep a more balanced view of my own life. Thanksgiving doesn’t negate the negative but it helps me to not lose sight of the fact that there are some positive ands in there, too.

So as I sit at the Thanksgiving table this year — unable to go to my grandma’s house but safe and welcomed by my in-laws — thankfulness will help me to see the complexities, the multifacetedness, of my own life; the pain and the beauty; the ands.

Life is hard sometimes and it’s also beautiful.

What Evangelicals Get Wrong About the Personal Narrative


I was raised in a religious subculture that valued the personal narrative—or “testimony,” as we preferred to call it. It was a part of everyday life as an Evangelical. Churches would teach classes on the importance of “sharing your testimony” in order to encourage your “brothers and sisters in Christ” and to hopefully “lead people to Christ.”

The way we saw it, these weren’t your average run-of-the-mill personal narratives, these were stories of God. And they came in a variety of genres. (And all available at your local Christian bookstore.)

One of the most popular by far was the Redemptive Testimony. This sort of story usually involved someone who’d gotten involved with the Unholy Trinity—sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll—but, “through the grace of God,” had been saved from their self-destructive, unholy life and had been transformed into a straight-laced Sunday morning church attendee. These stories were popular because a) they were dramatic and everyone loves a little drama, and b) it was the only time we were allowed to read or listen to anything that even mentioned drugs or sex.

There were the Adventure Testimonies. These were primarily stories of Christian missionaries who had gone to live in far off regions of the globe. I remember my dad reading me biographies of missionaries who had dealt with “spiritual warfare,” opposition from the government, and first-hand exposure to poverty (or at least a front row view of it). In a lot of ways they were like the Christian version of Indiana Jones (well, if Indiana Jones was more interested in souls than artifacts).

Then, there were the True Womanhood Testimonies. I wasn’t much of a fan of these and actually found them scary and kind of depressing. It was a reminder that “God’s ways are not my way,” which basically meant that I might have to have a dozen children someday, whether I liked it or not. These were the stories of women who had had their “hearts changed.” Perhaps they weren’t interested in marriage or children, but God had tamed their wild hearts and transformed them into divine domestic divas. (As far as I was concerned, these were the Horror Testimonies.)

There were the Romantic Testimonies. These were more prudish than something out of a Victorian novel—lots of waiting, no touching, courtship rather than dating, asking the father’s permission, and a whole lot of shame if she’s already done the nasty. I remember the very first story that I heard like this. Mom told me about an article she’d read, how the first time the couple held hands was as they were standing at the altar, exchanging vows and rings. “Wouldn’t that be romantic, Kelsey?” she asked. I was only in fifth grade, so I just shrugged.


Personal narratives were a vital part of our subculture. We loved stories. I loved stories. Honestly, I think my love of creative nonfiction has a lot to do with growing up Evangelical. I came of age in a subculture that valued personal narratives … or at least that’s what I thought at the time.

As time goes by though I find myself rethinking the lore of my childhood and adolescent years, and how we didn’t truly value stories; we only liked stories that made a point that fit with our already established ideologies.

I find myself rethinking how the stories that were different from our own were used and whether we should’ve even been telling them in the first place.

I’ve come to believe that part of truly valuing personal narratives (whether religious “testimonies” or something else entirely) is determining who has the right to tell them. We certainly wouldn’t have wanted our precious testimonies being told by someone else. We would’ve been horrified, offended, and hurt if someone had told our stories, co-opted them, in order to make a point. But that is exactly what we did.

In contrast to The Testimony was the Bad Example Story. These were the stories of woe and warning. The stories of boys and girls, men and women who had “walked away from” their faith after being “led astray” by rebellion and a lust for sex, money, drugs, or atheism. “It can happen to anyone,” the teller would stress. “If you’re not careful,” the message was always clear, “it could be you.”

But maybe the stories of rebellion were really stories of finding freedom, healing, and a little peace of mind.

Maybe the stories of someone losing their way were really stories of people finding their place in the world and of finding themselves for the very first time.

Maybe the stories of hormones and lust were really tender, romantic stories of young love.

Maybe the stories of someone no longer reading the bible were really stories where someone had exchanged their title of scholar for explorer and would never go back.

Maybe it wasn’t that the stories were “bad” but that they didn’t fit into any of our narrowly defined (and kind of strange) genres.

Maybe they would’ve had completely different meanings, maybe there would’ve been completely different endings. And maybe we would’ve known all of that if we’d allowed the person to tell their own narrative.

Maybe the stories we told from the pulpits, in countless Christian books, and recited to each other like they were modern Christian fables or anecdotal evidence were never ours to tell.

You see, what Evangelicals get wrong about the personal narrative is that not all stories are theirs to tell.


I’d be one of those supposedly Bad Example Stories now, myself. I now believe and support so many things I’d been warned against, scared away from (like having an egalitarian marriage, reading fantasy novels, calling God a girl, deciding the term Conservative happened to not fit me, and leaving Evangelicalism). If someone from my past were to co-opt my story the way we so often did, they would tell a story of a Nice Christian Girl who somehow fell off the track. They would tell it like it was a scary story, a warning: “If this could happen to Kelsey, it could happen to anyone. It could happen to you.”

But that wouldn’t be my story.

My story is about finding and reimagining myself, learning to think and question and doubt, and be authentically me.

My story isn’t a Bad Example Story. My story is of someone who, from the time she was a very tiny child, had been handed a mold and told she needed to squeeze herself into it, even if it hurt. People who didn’t fit were lost and misguided; people who didn’t fit were a disappointment. My story is how that girl finally cracked the mold, the mold that fit other people and so they assumed it would also fit her.

To borrow the old genres of my past, it’s a Romantic Testimony; it’s a story of how I learned to love myself. It’s an Adventure Testimony because it’s about how I left all that I knew behind. It’s a True Womanhood Testimony of another type all together as I embrace the Divine Feminine and my wild heart. And it’s a Redemptive Testimony because it’s about how I’m redeeming, taking back, and reclaiming my own life.

This is my narrative. And you know what? It’s a damn good one. And it’s only mine to tell.

Pike Place Market: A Love Story

Flickr CC Travis Wise

Flickr CC Travis Wise

It was fall 2010 and it was raining — a light misting rain. The tourists pulled out their umbrellas undoubtedly feeling as if they were getting the full Seattle experience, while the locals pulled their hoods up and hunched their backs to protect their newly purchased treasures and others walked on completely unfazed. We strolled down the street, a busy and tangled mess of cars and tourists darting into traffic in an attempt to get the perfect iconic shot in front of the glowing red Pike Place Market sign. Just below the sign a gathering watched the men in white aprons at the seafood stall tossing fresh salmon the way a street performer tosses juggling pins.

Just a few shops farther down on the right side of the street a women’s-restroom-sized line waited to set foot inside the original Starbucks, money for lattes and coffee-themed memorabilia likely already in hand.

As we continued swimming upstream, pausing to listen to a busker here and there, some of the people we passed were carrying brown paper bags in various sizes containing home-made jewelry, fresh Washington apples, expensive kitchen gadgets, and previously loved books; many of them juggled bouquets of freshly cut flowers, some of which sported bright, chubby sunflowers.

We stopped at some of the shops long enough to really admire their wares, but mostly we just breathed in the scent of hand-made soap mixed with the smell of leather journals and overpriced organic produce. We breathed in the relaxed yet upbeat rhythm of the city. We breathed in the colors and the sounds. We breathed in every moment together as if we were savoring the fresh, fleeting smell of rain.

We found an often completely overlooked alcove just outside the market, sandwiched between a Tully’s Coffee and something I can’t recall. The aesthetics mainly consisted of concrete and a few potted trees. But when we stood right up next to the fence, peering over a manicured bush, we could see the freeway and, beyond that, the Seattle skyline — complete with the Space Needle and a ferry on its way in. You wrapped your arms around me, and we stood together — for the first time that close together — breathing in the moment.

I fell in love with you there, standing in the rain.

As the cars on the freeway below us hurdled by and tourists hurried for shelter from the rain, as no one watched or cared, you and I became us. It happened slowly and then, when I wasn’t expecting it, all at once.

As we left our spot, forever that will be our spot, you reached for my hand as we walked towards the pier. Only a few minutes before my hand had been empty but now it was laced with yours.

Love is {on our anniversary}

Wedding day, 2013.

Wedding day, 2013.

Love is late night philosophical talks that turn into giggles. Loving is holding hands as you walk through the frozen food aisle, smiling as if you’re on your very first date. Love is doing the chores the other one thinks are gross.

Love is saying, “I love you now and I love who you’re becoming.” Love is caring for someone else’s well-being more than your ideologies. Love is giving someone the space to reimagine who they are.

Love is sharing and keeping the most sacred of secrets. Love is apologizing and forgiving, again and again. Love is an adventure, a challenge, and a delight.

Love is remembering the little details, the precious details. Love is gutsy and gentle. Love is finding safety in a little world of two.

Love is reading a book together in bed as you listen to the rain against the roof. Love is how you treat me every day. Love is how I feel for you.

I love you very much, sweetheart. Happy second anniversary.

Don’t be a Stranger

2122878328_dd2017be9a_oThe green and yellow bus lurches to a stop, the doors swing open with a whoosh of air. “Good morning!” I beam at my usual driver as I step on the bus, monthly pass in hand. The doors close behind me. “You know, I think you’re the only person on my route who looks like they might actually like mornings,” he says shaking his head in amusement.

As the bus lunges forward I walk down the aisle with one hand over my head as I lightly finger the bar overhead. After several years as a proud strap-hanging public-transit-riding commuter I’ve earned my sea legs; the jerking and swaying doesn’t faze me as I make my way to my usual squeaky leather seat. I always sit where the rows of bus benches face each other because it provides the best view of the entire bus.

A few sleepy heads look up long enough to acknowledge me but not long enough to say anything.

The woman directly across from me is reading a well-highlighted leather Bible. Once, when she wasn’t reading she told me she worked at the Starbucks headquarters; she’ll get off at the transit station in order to transfer to the northbound commuter train. The preteen girl sitting next to her with her earbuds in—the universal bus sign for “No, I do not want to make small talk actually”— is clutching a pink backpack on her lap; she’ll get off at the middle school. Several other students are also lugging around heavy, bulky backpacks on their way to high school or the local community college. Sometimes they read their textbooks or flip through flashcards, always with their earbuds in.

The man next to me is sipping his regular morning coffee, obviously still trying to wake up. Sometimes he’ll nod a “G’mornin’” but that’s about the extent of his 6:30 am socialness. Several riders are slumped up against the windows, likely still dreaming of the pillows they had to leave too hastily. The only sounds are the creaking and whooshing of the bus doors and the occasional contagious line of yawns.

When an older gentleman steps on the regular riders audibly groan. He’s hauling his weekly recycling: a giant neon-orange cloth bag with pictures of jack-o-lanterns all over it. The person next to me mumbles, “Better pull your legs in,” as the man walks down the aisle with his scary Santa sized bag bumping along behind him. It barely squeezes down the aisle and when it gets stuck he gives it a tug, which elicits more moans from his fellow riders as the can-filled bag has a run in with several people’s knees. He sits down, and then the bus is quiet again.

I pull my black Beatle’s tote bag, complete with Bob Marley pins, onto my lap to make room for other passengers. A man in his late thirties slips a CD into my hand as he walks past. “I burned it for you because I saw your bag,” he says shyly before continuing down the aisle. The CD reads in blue hand-written ink: The Moondoggies. I’ll later find out they’re a local Seattle band. The album is entitled Don’t be a Stranger. (The title likely isn’t ironic because the next several times I’ll run into him on the bus he’ll ask for a date.)

As I slip my new CD in my tote bag everyone else is still slowly waking up. They read, catch up on podcasts or listen to their favorite songs, drink their coffee, and stare out the windows as the sun is just beginning to yawn and stretch right along with them.

They are close enough that I could touch them, but they are always in their own little worlds. So many potential acquaintances, friends, and lovers just within their reach. And they never know. I’m surrounded by people—sometimes uncomfortably close to people—but alone just the same.

As the bus rolls on I continue people watching and when I happen to chance on someone who is awake enough to visit, encourage them to not be a stranger.